Mammoth cargo ship blocking Suez Canal partially refloated

The ship is still blocking canal traffic

CBS NEWS

 The colossal container ship that’s been wedged across the Suez Canal for almost a week has been partially re-floated, Egyptian authorities said Monday, but it was unclear when shipping on the critical waterway would resume.

Suez Canal Authority chairman Osama Rabie said in a statement cited by Agence France-Presse that the Ever Given has been turned “80 per cent in the right direction.”

“The stern (has been) … moved to 102 metres (335 feet) from the shore” compared to four metres previously, he said.

The operation “will resume when water flow increases again from 11:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m. EDT) … in order to completely refloat the vessel, so as to reposition it in the middle of the waterway,” the statement continued.

He said shipping would resume “after the completion of refloating operations of the ship, which will then be directed to the waiting area” so the canal could be cleared.

The CEO of the parent company of Smit Salvage, which has been involved in efforts to free the Ever Given, cautioned Monday that those efforts wouldn’t be “a piece of cake.” The Reuters news agency quotes Boskalis CEO Peter Berdowski as telling Dutch Public Radio that a new tug would arrive and water would be sent under the ship’s bow to help free it, but if that doesn’t work, some containers on the Ever Given might have to be removed to lighten it up.

But Mohab Mamish, a presidential adviser for canal projects and former SCA chief told CBS News the entire ship was free and being examined to determine when it can be positioned to unclog the logjam it created. He said the mammoth vessel was refloated at 4:30 a.m. local time. Mamish told CNBC Arabia he expected the Suez to be ready to cross ships by 11 a.m. local time (5 a.m. EDT).

Global marine services provider Inchcape Shipping was first to say the Ever Given had been freed, also citing 4:30 a.m. in a tweet. Inchcape said the Ever Given was “being secured at the moment. More information about next steps will follow once they are known.” The tweet included a diagram appearing to show the ship partially straightened.

But canal services firm MarineTraffic.com said the Ever Given had been “partially refloated” and was still blocking canal traffic, without providing further details about when it would be set free.

Satellite data from MarineTraffic.com showed that the ship’s bulbous bow, once firmly lodged in the canal’s eastern bank, had been wrested from the shore.

Nearly a week ago, the skyscraper-sized Ever Given got stuck sideways in the crucial waterway, creating a massive traffic jam. The obstruction has been holding up $9 billion each day in global trade and straining supply chains already burdened by the coronavirus pandemic.

The MV Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship wedged across the Suez Canal and blocking traffic in the vital waterway, is seen on March 26, 2021.MOHAMED ELSHAHED/AP

As of Monday, 367 vessels, carrying everything from crude oil to cattle, were still waiting to pass through the canal, while dozens more are taking the alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip, adding some two weeks to journeys and threatening delivery delays.

The partial freeing of the vessel came after intensive efforts to push and pull the vessel with 10 tugboats when the full moon brought spring tide, Leth Agencies said, raising the canal’s water level and hopes for a breakthrough.

A top pilot with the canal authority, speaking on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to talk to journalists, confirmed that the ship had been partially refloated.

Lt. Gen. Osama Rabei, the head of the Suez Canal Authority, said workers continued “pulling maneuvers” to refloat the vessel early Monday.

Overnight, several dredgers had toiled to vacuum up 27,000 cubic metres of sand and mud around the ship. Another powerful tugboat, Carlo Magno, was racing to the scene to join the efforts.

Although the vessel is vulnerable to damage in its current position, Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., the company that owns the Ever Given, dismissed concerns on Monday, saying that the ship’s engine was functional and it could pursue its trip normally when freed.

Ship operators did not offer a timeline for the reopening of the crucial canal, which carries over 10% of global trade, including seven per cent of the world’s oil. The unprecedented shutdown could affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East.

Canal authorities have desperately tried to free the vessel by relying on tugs and dredgers alone, even as analysts warned that 400-metre-long ship, weighing 220,000 tons, may be too heavy for such an operation. As a window for a breakthrough narrows with high tide receding this week, fears have grown that authorities would be forced to lighten the vessel by removing the ship’s 20,000 containers – a complex operation, requiring specialized equipment not found in Egypt, that could take days or weeks.